Botox: A Surprising Source of TMJ Relief

Botox: A Surprising Source of TMJ Relief

A stressed jaw is a painful jaw. Whether it is caused by stress or a misaligned bite, TMJ (also known as TMD or temporomandibular joint disorder) causes aches and discomfort for nearly 10 million Americans.

To those that suffer from TMD, it can be both painful and frustrating. Simple tasks like eating or sleeping can be disrupted by pain radiating from your jaw. Sometimes, something as simple as yawning is painful.

The tension caused by TMJ causes more than simple jaw pain. In fact, it has been known to cause chronic pain and stiffness in the neck, back, and shoulder, as well as trigger migraines. This disorder can also trigger inflammation in your facial muscles that puts pressure on your ear canals, which can sometimes cause hearing loss or ringing in the ears.

Traditionally, treatment for TMJ is done through mouthguards, stretches, and anti-inflammatory pain relievers and the success of these methods tends to vary. Fortunately, there is a new treatment available with encouraging results.

What is TMJ/TMD?

TMJ or TMD isn’t a singular disorder. This pain in your jaw joint and surrounding muscles can have multiple sources and causes.  On each side of your head, near the front of your ears, is the temporomandibular joint. This sliding hinge controls the up and down movement of your jaw. When this joint aches, clicks, grates, or freezes, it’s possible you have a TMJ disorder.

 Symptoms of TMJ disorders

The symptoms of TMJ vary from person-to-person, but in general, they may include:

  • Pain, swelling or aching at your jaw joint
  • Aches or pain in your jaw muscles
  • Aches or pain inside or near your ear
  • Pain, clicking or locking when chewing or opening/closing your mouth
  • Aches and pains around the lower half of your face
  • Pain, crackling, ringing or popping in the ears
  • Difficulty chewing from stiff jaw
  • Experiencing lockjaw after opening mouth wide
  • Blurred vision, dizziness or vertigo

 What causes TMJ/TMD?

In many cases, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of TMJ. However, some common risk factors are often associated with this kind of pain:

  • Arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • Poor posture in the neck and back
  • A misaligned bite or crooked teeth
  • A recent or past jaw or teeth injury
  • Grinding or clenching of teeth when stressed or sleeping
  • Connective tissue diseases like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
  • Heightened stress or anxiety
  • Previously wore orthodontic braces
  • Excessive gum chewing

Traditional Treatments for TMJ

Many sufferers of TMJ go untreated or try to treat the pain using anti-inflammatory medications, ice packs, and stress management. However, there are many ways that doctors and dentists approach treating this disorder. Unfortunately, many find the recommended treatments for TMJ to be uncomfortable, invasive, or even ineffective.

Dental splint or TMJ bite guard

A dental splint or bite guard is one of the most commonly prescribed measures to help fight TMJ pain. In general, these guards are used to protect your teeth from clenching or grinding while you sleep, as well as treat some bite alignment issues.

While these splints are relatively economical, most wearers find them to be uncomfortable or they don’t work well with other health appliances like CPAP machines. In many cases, while these splints help protect your teeth, they don’t always relieve jaw pain.

TMJ Surgery

There are several surgeries performed for moderate to advanced levels of TMJ that are not responsive to other treatments.

Arthrocentesis

A simple and minimally invasive procedure that involves washing the inflammatory byproducts from your joint to reduce pressure and stiffness.

Arthroscopy

A slightly more complex procedure where a surgeon makes a few very small incisions to insert a camera and tube into the joint to remove scar tissue, reshape the joint, or provide other pain relief techniques.

Open-joint surgery

This surgery involves a much larger incision, normally a few inches long, and involves surgery directly on the joint for severe cases. This surgery is normally done when there is a lot of tissue or bone blocking the joint, the joint has fused or the intended surgery cannot be done using arthroscopy.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy for TMJ can take many forms. Either led by your dentist or in conjunction with a physical therapist, these treatments can involve simple stretches, exercises, and massages. Since TMJ can also be caused by poor posture and alignment in the upper neck and shoulders, these areas will also be checked for muscle contractions, tension, and inflammation. Further treatments include TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), ultrasound therapy, and removal of scar tissue through focused temporomandibular joint movement.

Steroid injections

Steroid injections into your jaw joint can help reduce the pain and inflammation you may suffer while talking or chewing. These injections generally help with the pain for about a month but can have serious side effects including the risk of damage to your cartilage and bone, as well as effect diabetic treatments.

Anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications

Since many sufferers of TMD or TMJ clench and grind their teeth due to stress or anxiety, some patients find relief after medical intervention for their mental health troubles.

Muscle relaxers

During severe flare-ups, muscle relaxers can be used to block pain and reduce muscle spasms. These drugs are best used only for a short period when symptoms are at their most painful as muscle relaxers cannot be used while working, operating a vehicle, or performing most daily tasks.

Botox Treatments for TMJ

You may be familiar with Botox injections from the cosmetic health industry. These simple injections have been used for years by doctors to reduce the signs of aging. This works by blocking the nerves’ ability to send signals to the muscle to contract, which helps wrinkled facial features relax around the eyes and frown lines.

Many patients are eager to treat their TMJ symptoms but struggle with the other treatments out there. Some find that mouthguards are uncomfortable or don’t work in conjunction with their other medical issues. Using Botox is a quick treatment with fast results, patients can often find relief quicker than with traditional dental appliances and without the hassle of daily management.

How it works

Much like treating wrinkles by stopping nerve signals to contract, Botox can work the same way when injected into your jaw. When the movement in your masseter and temporalis muscles is limited, they relax over time. Once they’re relaxed, patients feel less pain, decreased headaches, less popping and clicking, and general relief from many of their TMJ symptoms, and no further treatment is needed.

In advanced cases of TMJ, a nightguard may still be needed to protect teeth from grinding or clenching and keep muscled relaxed while sleeping.

How long does it take to go into effect?

Botox treatments are not immediate. After your injection, it can take anywhere from 2-10 days for the therapeutic effects to take hold. Remember, it often takes years of clenching, grinding, and stressing to create the type of pain and tension TMJ patients experience. It’s natural for your muscles to take a while to return to a relaxed state. Most patients note that in between 2-3 months, their symptoms have improved over time.

Additional treatments

If the trapezius muscle trigger points don’t return to a relaxed state through Botox treatment, dry needling can help the process along. This treatment involves inserting a dry needle into trigger points to break up fibers causing the tension. Along with this procedure, the dentist provides a numbing agent and Botox to offer immediate relief.

When should I see a dentist?

If you suspect you have TMJ and it is causing you pain, don’t ignore it. Take a step to protect your teeth, jaw, ears, and facial muscles from grinding, clenching, and tension. There are safe, effective measures the skilled dentists at Keith & Associates can use to relieve your TMJ symptoms. Give us a call today at 913-384-0044 to book an appointment.